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February 2, 2012 / Erik Ritland

Let’s Spend Three Nights Together

The evolution of an underrated Stones classic

from Volume 1, Issue 3 of Ramblin’ On

The Rolling Stone’s raunchy “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” an ode to casual sex, was controversial when it cam out in 1967. Many American radio stations refused to play it, the BBC banned it, and Ed Sullivan made them change the lyric to “let’s spend some time together” on his show with hilarious results. The flip side of the single, “Ruby Tuesday,” became the bigger hit in America because the backlash to the song was so severe. And possibly because it was a better song anyway.

In our overly sexualized society “Let’s Spend the Night Together” seems tame (except in China, I guess, where as recently as 2006 the Stones weren’t allowed to play it). Due to the scandal of the lyric it’s easy to overlook that the song itself, and the energy of the performance, is stellar. It has also inspired a few creative cover versions that are each at least as good, if not better, than the original. Below I highlight three of the best versions: the original, Muddy Waters’ psychedelic blues/rock version, and Bowie’s glam take.

The Rolling Stones
Originally released as a single in 1967; is found on the American albums
Between the Buttons and Flowers. Hear it here.

The Rolling Stones are at their high-octane best right from the start of this song. The bass, drums, and piano pound to the point that you can feel their energy coming through the speakers. Charlie Watts’ tasteful drumming anchors the song. His fills, while simple, are well-placed. The way he switches from a straight groove in the verses to hitting the snare on the upbeat during the pre-chorus and chorus creates the essential “build ups” that the energy of the band feeds from.

The infamous Ed Sullivan performance of this song deserves mentioning. Sullivan didn’t want the band to sing such a risqué song so as a compromise the band agreed to change the lyrics to “let’s spend some time together.” The results are expectedly hilarious. The Stones look completely uninterested, Keith Richards intentionally slurs the lyrics at several points, and the members of the band visibly roll their eyes no less than four times (:54, 1:36, 2:06, and 2:48 were the ones I noticed). You have to see it to believe it. Jaggar’s handshake of Sullivan that ends the video couldn’t be more forced and, although he seemed pleased with the performance, Sullivan refused to let the Stones perform on the show after that. Click here to watch.

Muddy Waters
Originally found on the 1968 album Electric Mud. Hear it here.

1967 and ’68 were the golden years of psychedelic rock. Amidst all the excesses of that era came the idea of Delta bluesman Muddy Waters cutting an album of raw, raunchy, psychedelic blues rock in the vein of Cream and other psychedelic rock bands.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” from Electric Mud  is a good representation of exactly why entire album is mind-blowing. The riff that the piano and bass provide in the original recording is replaced with a fuzz-guitar riff reminiscent of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Instead of relying on the build-up that the drums provide in the original recording the band backing Muddy finds a groove based on the riff they created and then stunningly run with it. Swirling organ, crazy guitar, and Muddy’s impassioned vocal round out the track.

David Bowie
Originally released as a single in 1973 and the album Alladin Sane (released the same year). Hear it here.

Bowie’s band from that era, the Spiders from Mars, are one of my favorite rock bands. The way they translated Bowie’s attitude and songwriting into flashy rock n’ roll is a high point of ’70s rock.

Their version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a good example of how talented they were. The opening few seconds, with its initial electric guitar blast, loud synth fill, and piano insanity sets the tone. The energy of the original is replaced with recklessness. The guitar, piano, and synths of the intro actually get even more raucous as the song goes on. Trevor Bolder’s fluid bassline, Woody Woodmansey’s pounding drums, Mick Ronson’s slashing guitar fills, Mike Garson’s outrageous piano playing, and Bowie’s intense vocal performance combine for a classic piece of glam rock.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.

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